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Continued Exploration of Hassan Whiteside’s (Lack of) Passing


The surprisingly low rate at which Hassan Whiteside assisted his teammates last season is well documented. Passing, in the modern NBA, is as much an important skill as scoring. But empty passes, like garbage time points, doesn’t necessarily lead to winning. How a players passes to his teammates is possibly more important than the rate of assists. Rajon Rondo, fascinating a specimen and passer he may be, is famous (infamous?) for both impactful passing and empty assist numbers.

In Whiteside’s first season (his first season for all intents and purposes) he was exceptionally natural in his scoring near the basket and his ability to defend the rim and block shots. The latter was heightened by his ability to, with his giant hands, keep the ball in play rather than swatting it into the stands. On occasion he could be even block the ball to himself, seemingly taking it from the grasp of the opposing player.

Whiteside in many ways represents the Miami Heat’s future. Without any future draft picks to count on, the Heat hope to count on the 26-year-old center to continue along the arch he carved out last season. Whiteside is assuredly a dominating, singular player. The size of his body and hands, and the chip on his shoulder, make him physically dominating in a way that is almost rare in modern basketball favoring small ball. But so much of the contemporary cadence of play–exemplified by the Warriors and Spurs, and of course the peak Big Three Era Heat–relies on passing. That is something Whiteside, if he is to make the players around him better, needs to improve on.

More specifically, outlet passing is where Whiteside can make his biggest impact. A skill that would naturally fit within his seemingly natural abilities and impact on the court. We know Whiteside didn’t pass much last season, averaging about one assist for every 100 times he possessed the ball (we really don’t even need advanced stats to measure Whiteside’s infrequency to assist, having done so just six times in the 48 games he played all season).

To simply ask for that number to increase next season is a goal without a plan. How Whiteside and coach Erik Spoelstra increase that figure is more important.

The Heat played at a woefully and uncomfortably slow place last season. Hampered by injuries and lacking chemistry, the team at least found something that worked in pick-and-rolls between Dwyane Wade and Whiteside. Later, after the arrival of Goran Dragic, the team’s pace improved but it was still playing at a slower than optimal speed.

That should change this season; with a team, healthy and more organized, built stronger and deeper and faster.

That should also allow Whiteside more opportunities to explore his outlet passing. Upon his blocks, teammates like a Wade and Dragic, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh, Gerald Green, Josh Richardson and Justise Winslow will be darting down the court, filling lanes and preparing to be the receiver of a Whiteside pass.

Dragic wanted to play fast and, as the Heat prepared to re-sign him, promised him they would. It can be guaranteed that Whiteside outlets to take advantage of his elite blocking ability (and ability to guide the ball within bounds), are bouncing around the head of Spoelstra.

Though as Spoelstra, and any coach, knows, it is one thing to plan, it is another to execute. Asking an unpracticed passer like Whiteside to suddenly become Wes Unseld or Bill Walton is unrealistic. (Though asking a center previously playing in Lebanon to suddenly become DeAndre Jordan is a long shot as well.) It is doubtful that Whiteside will be able to, with any consistency, direct accurate passes 20, 30, 40 feet down the court to his teammates. Or that he will be able to do so with timing and rhythm necessary to not only find his teammate, but find his teammate at the right time in the right place to lead into an easy score.

Whiteside does not have to improve this facet of his game to continue being a center piece of this team. He can be a dominating, All-Star quality player as is: an elite defensive enforcer and highly efficient finisher. After all, he catches everything in those great hands and flashed a few nice post moves toward the end of last season that he is assuredly also working on. But if he is to improve those assist numbers, this is how to do it.

It is here, not within the half court offense–where Whiteside is used as a fearsome finisher of the pick-and-roll–that he can improve those assist numbers in a way that best helps the Heat.

Next: Measuring Chris Andersen's Decline by the Numbers